War medals thief changed man: lawyer

Waiouru Army Museum medals thief Ronald van Wakeren today cited his donations to the Pike River Mine and Christchurch Earthquake disaster funds as part of a reason why his jail term should be cut.

Van Wakeren, 40, was jailed in 2009 for 11 years by Judge Graham Hubble in Auckland District Court, with a minimum imprisonment term of seven years, after admitting a number of burglaries.

Six of those 11 years were for the theft of 96 medals, including nine Victoria Crosses, from the army museum in December 2007.

Van Wakeren's lawyer Gary Gotlieb told Court of Appeal judges Ronald Young, Lyn Stevens and Geoffrey Venning today that his client's donations were signs that he was starting to turn his life around.

"Now he's in prison he's realised at his age he's just going to have to change," he said.

But Crown lawyer Brett Tantrum said that "$500 here, $500 there" was a long way from what he had taken for the crimes over which he was appealing today, which was just over $1 million.

Justices Young and Stevens said the contributions to Pike River and Christchurch were welcome but they paled in comparison to what he had taken.

"He's a long way behind the eight ball," Justice Stevens said.

They said denunciation and deterrence were important factors in the sentencing of Van Wakeren, as was protection of the public, and Van Wakeren needed to convince them that the sentence Judge Hubble imposed was manifestly excessive.

Mr Gotlieb also discussed what he called an "academic point" that the theft of the medals should have been the lead offence rather than the burglary, which included the breaking in to the museum.

Justice Young said most burglaries also involved theft and taking this approach would be opening a legal floodgate.

Mr Gotlieb also submitted that Van Wakeren should get a larger discount for his guilty plea.

Justice Stevens said the main point the court needed to determine was whether 11 years was too much for the totality of the crimes.

"The point we have got to pursue is one that despite the extensive nature of the offending, the multiplicity of types of offending, and the grand scale of it, is the term too high."

The judges did however call for submissions on the seven year minimum term of imprisonment imposed by Judge Hubble. It appeared the judge had imposed the minimum term on the cumulative term, something Justice Young said he'd never heard of anybody doing.

Mr Tantrum was asked to prepare submissions on whether a series of cumulative minimum jail terms could be imposed.

Van Wakeren's co-offender James Joseph Kapa, who was not part of the appeal, was jailed last year for six years for his part in the burglary.

His total jail term was 15 years, with a minimum of six years and nine months, before he was eligible for parole.

The hearing was adjourned for the crown to prepare submissions on the sentencing.



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